Riding Alongside Fujian’s Tulou Fortresses
12 riders strong, The Hutong Travel just returned from our newest eco-cycle bike-ride adventure through one of the greenest corners of China – the strikingly beautiful Fujian province.
Riding along quiet hills, under blue skies, to the lesser known areas of the region, The Hutong led one of its most remarkable bike trips through lush green landscapes dotted with ancient tulou fortresses. This area is also home to some of the world’s most treasured and respected tea farms.
Green Green Green Fujian
Though the eye-catching tulou architecture has only started to attract a growing stir among local Chinese tour groups with tourism still in its infancy in Fujian. A few tulou communities have already been spoiled and turned into commercial, touristy destinations with entrance fees, loud music, and vendors with overpriced food, beverages and souvenirs.
This kind of mass tourism goes against the spirit of our travel philosophy, so we steered clear of these sites. We rode our bikes straight past these communities, dashing by a sea of crowded heads bobbing up and down their clearly marked guided routes and we felt fortunate to be traveling in a very different fashion. Our ride avoided all tourist traps. We sought out places off-the-beaten-path, finding many village communities virtually untouched by modern day living, places that transported us to another time and age.
An area of China that has seen so much change, Hakka people fled from war and famine along the Yellow River since the 12th century, to beat a path through Fujian’s bandit-infested mountains, carving out fields for rice, tobacco and tea, and fortifying themselves into rammed-earth clan houses called tulou 土楼. Today, these gigantic tulou structures are like a time warp into history – a time less rushed, a time when the generous hospitality of opening your home and sharing your most treasured tea with a group of strangers was common practice.
A fast-disappearing part of old China, the impacts of tourism and the changing attitudes towards living in a traditional tulou are a revealing cultural aspect of this trip and a subject we encouraged our participants to explore and understand better.
A journey we took by bike (rather than tour bus), we were able to venture down small alleys and lanes through remote villages in Fujian, stopping in regularly to visit various styles of tulous along the route and to sip tea, chat and enjoy home-cooked meals with friendly tulou families. Covering about 80km across 2 days, we were challenged to climb up hilly roads for painfully beautiful vantage points and rewarded with long, smooth, winding downhill rides.
Snapshots of The Hutong’s Biking Journey Through Scenic Tea Farms and Rice Patties:
Meeting our Sturdy Mountain Bikes
Preserving the Culture and History of the Tulous:
Previously mistaken in 1980′s satellite photos for missile silos, Fujian’s Tulou turned out to be far more interesting: multi-storied, fengshui-aligned, rammed-earth fortresses built from the 13th Century onward to protect the “newly” arrived Hakka Clan’s and their rich tea culture. 300 Tulou scattered across Southern Fujian’s tea fields are now UNESCO-listed World Cultural Heritage gems, best appreciated on a bike, drinking plenty of tea.
The Hutong supports the heritage conservation work of a local NGO by staying in a lesser-known Tulou that has been selected by local and international architects to serve as an alternative heritage protection model.
The Restored and Protected Tulou we called Home for 24 hours.
Biking from One Tulou to the Next
A Tulou Village Littered with Tourists
A Remote Toulou that has probably never seen one tourist walk through its doors
Fujian’s communities were among the most vehement Mao Zedong Supporters
An Abandoned Tulou with beautiful portraits of Mao adorned on its walls
Saying Farewell to Our Adorable Tulou Hosts
After cycling through perfect green rolling hills, we ended our journey at the Xiamen airport where the majority of our weekend riders were due back to rest up before their work week started.
Luckily, a couple of our riders were flexible in their schedules to stay on for an extra day of hiking and relaxation in Xiamen city where we hiked up Nanputuo Temple and took in the salty sea smell in the afternoon on the beach with a fresh coconut to sip on.
The perfect way to unwind and prepare for our journeys back home, this weekend bike trip is the ideal quick getaway for a balance of pristine nature, eye-opening culture, history, architecture, physical activity and relaxing tea sharing ceremonies.
Vantage Point at the Top of Nanputuo Temple in Xiamen
A Serene Ending to a Wonderful Weekend Getaway
Beyond the fragrant rolling hills of Fujian, The Hutong Travel team is currently exploring options for a Wuyishan weekender (more great teas, mellow cycling and stunning hikes to Daoist temples on rocky mountains patchworked with tea) along with a Guilin Yangshuo weekender (amazing rice noodles, stunning cycle routes through limestone karsts, cormorant fishermen, charming mud brick villages and Osmanthus flavoured tea).
Likely to run late-October early-November, please stay tuned for another action adventure gourmet getaway!
Our Daoist friend in Wuyishan Mysteriously named Cloud Gorge (Yun Gu)
Photo by Eco-Trip Leader Bruce Foreman